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In re Personal Restraint of Charles Leon Teddington

April 11, 1991


En Banc. Andersen, J. Dore, C.j., Utter, Brachtenbach, Dolliver, Durham, Smith, and Guy, JJ., and Callow, J. Pro Tem., concur. Johnson, J., did not participate in the disposition of this case.

Author: Andersen

Facts of Case

In 1985, petitioner Charles Leon Teddington was convicted of murder in the first degree. His conviction was affirmed on appeal in an unpublished opinion.*fn1

In this review of a denial of his personal restraint petition by the Court of Appeals, petitioner challenges his conviction on the ground that certain evidence admitted at his murder trial was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights.

When arrested for murder, petitioner was in the Army and stationed at Fort Lewis. After his arrest by civilian authorities, his commanding officer ordered that his onbase property be inventoried and placed in storage. During the search of his locker, a letter written by petitioner was discovered which indicated that he had gone to Seattle the day of the killing in order to assist in a robbery. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, evidence was introduced, and the trial court found, that such an inventory is standard military procedure whenever a soldier is away from his quarters for an indeterminable period of time.

Petitioner's platoon sergeant testified that he conducted the inventory of petitioner's unlocked locker which was located in a room shared by three men. He stated that while standing on a chair he came across a spiral bound notebook on the high top shelf of the locker and that he threw it over onto the bed. He testified that the notebook fell open to a page (marked by a greeting card) on which petitioner had written a letter to a friend. The sergeant further testified that when he finished clearing out the locker, he stood over the bed inspecting a set of keys found in the locker to determine if there were any military vehicle keys on the ring because petitioner had been one of his platoon's drivers. He testified that he glanced at the open notebook and, noticing a racial slur which he did not tolerate in his platoon, he continued reading. He immediately realized that the letter was evidence of the crime for which petitioner had been arrested. The notebook was then placed in evidence and turned over to the Seattle Police Department; eventually it was introduced into evidence at petitioner's trial.

The commanding officer of the company testified that pursuant to standard military procedure, he had ordered the inventory of petitioner's gear and personal effects. He also testified that it would have been appropriate for the person conducting the inventory to ascertain ownership of inventoried items prior to storage, especially in view of the fact that more than one person lived in the room. Petitioner testified at his trial that not all of the writing in the notebook was his and that parts of the notebook were written by his roommates.

The trial court found that the platoon sergeant had followed standard operating procedure in inventorying petitioner's belongings in order to insure their safety. The court also found that the sergeant did not know the notebook belonged to petitioner since there were two other occupants of the room and that he looked at it to determine ownership and because he noticed a racial slur which he did not allow in his unit. The trial court further found that it was

apparent to the sergeant that the letter was evidence of guilt and that he had reported it to his captain who gave it to Seattle police officers. The trial judge concluded there was no unlawful search and seizure and denied the motion to suppress.

At trial, petitioner testified that he had no prior knowledge that his companion was armed or that he intended to engage in a robbery on the day of the killing. The letter was admitted into evidence as showing petitioner's knowledge of his companion's intent to engage in an armed robbery. The murder victim was killed by petitioner's companion during the course of the robbery.

The search and seizure issues were not raised in petitioner's appeal to the Court of Appeals. In 1989, however, petitioner filed a personal restraint petition arguing that the trial court erred in admitting the incriminating letter. The Court of Appeals dismissed the personal restraint petition holding that petitioner's failure to raise the Fourth Amendment issue on direct appeal precluded him from raising it in a personal restraint proceeding. That court further held that petitioner's Fifth Amendment argument was without merit since the inculpatory statements in the letter were voluntary and not compelled and that his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection claims did not identify the claimed error or basis for review.

We accepted a motion for review of the Court of Appeals order and petitioner now has also asserted an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel argument, to be decided in the event we should decline to consider Fourth Amendment issues not raised on direct appeal.

This case presents three issues.


Issue One. Did the search of petitioner's locker in his Fort Lewis room by military personnel violate the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution?

Issue Two. Should evidence lawfully obtained under federal standards by federal officers in a federal enclave be

admissible in a state court even if the seizure might have violated state law if conducted by state officials?

Issue Three. Did the introduction into evidence of a letter written by petitioner violate his Fifth Amendment right not to be compelled to testify against himself?


Issue One.

Conclusion. The trial court did not err in refusing to suppress the letter found in petitioner's army locker because it was discovered during the course of a valid inventory search. It follows that introduction of the letter into ...

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